What Rough Beast | Poem for April 27, 2017

Judson Evans
Ring of Gyges

Gyges chanced to turn the stone of the ring on his finger inward, toward the palm of his hand. Instantly he became invisible.
Plato, The Republic

Disembodiment is a kind of terrorism
—Ta-Neshisi Coates

for Mitzi Okou

I want to write about the shootings, the fear,
and I want to write about the Ring of Gyges,
the unearthed feeling in the gut, a fiberglass
submarine dry-docked in the gravel of the gas station.

I want to write about what happens in the interval
between the mask of terrified and mask of the terrible.
As the explorer of the cave finds the giant’s buried body
like an internal organ cast up into light

and snaps off a finger for the marvelous ring,
or the way wreckers of drowned ships
pry a body apart for a bill clip, anesthetized by the distinction of
pallor, the violated distance,

I want to unscript the dissection, a cop feeling the levitation
of a badge, the way added silver lessens
the gravity, The Ring of Gyges placed for the first time
on a finger, the twisted bezel, eye-scan technology,

and that long-ago moment behind the A&P store
divided by a wall, that first omnipotence
of seeing the other without being seen, the mother and handsome
dutiful son carrying hampers of white clothes

from the Laundromat, the refuse heap
all around me, rotting tomatoes and cabbage,
which I flung, saw splatter because I could,
and ran for hours, chased in and out of alleys,

I want to write about the teeter-totter
rhythm, the slip, the ship, the shape of power,
heads or tails of a spinning dime: the nimbus
bent between shapes and shades.

Not every cop feels lighter by the weight
of a gun falling under the spell
of the invisible, by motion of the spin distorted
draw of motion, two sides of the shield.

The cop with a loaded gun approaching the boy
with black water pistol, the discoverer of a ring tests
the safety of numbness, safety of
numbers—nimbus moment’s open flame,

infantile ring of being safe if not seen, the cop behind
the badge, the convex of the shield, bronze body beaten
thin but impenetrable, both feet planted on car hood,
firing through the windshield, not

proximity but range. But what if the shield were flipped,
vacuum-cast concavity, windpipe and belly, between impulse
and injury? Blind, the camouflaged place is called, built
to the body’s vulnerability. The fleshed out stillness

of the object stopped, prey-object, the drained-of-prayer
subject running from the car, shots in the back that follow, tagged, tasered,
it. The couple in the front seat executed again and
again, the turn that can’t be taken back, the names

of children’s games taken by torturers: swing, waterboard, or submarine,
A nickel ride or drone’s impacted distance. Childhood
memory putting on the cloak of invisibility deemed
colorless, the first dream of freedom minus risk,

its weightless, print-less tracks, its destructive wake,
as a child steals Beatle cards from a case in the candy
or jams the handle of the pistachio machine in the Laundromat
to fill his pockets to the ripped lining with absence

of surveillance. I want to write about the chance
in what is seen, the choice in what is
of vision. I want to write about pulling you back
drunk outside the gay bar going after the cop roughing up

the queer kid, your conviction/ my compliance.
What are you looking at? The force contained in who asks
the question? How it’s possible to entertain an optical illusion,
aura of spinning dime, the flip side, the submarine called

Depraved Heart, buoyant by its unanchored freedom, held
for questioning, held for cursing, find only the poverty
of the projection that won’t unfold from the silver nimbus
as the moon is called half or full or a man shackled becomes

handcuffs, seat belts, earplugs. I don’t want to write
about the woman hanged in her cell, the victim of a car
crash crawling toward help, shot through, unshielded.
I want to write about the broken ring, the evacuated

space of a sacred circle where jurors sit,
not the spun dime but the two bars of gold,
competition in the crowd for the straightest verdict,
not The Ring of Gyges as a parable, but

the paradox of our bodies held against us, opaque,
canted toward the light, not The Tale of Gyges, but the dialogue
that follows—the pause, the risk, the difference  of
justice: submersible, pigment-less, yet legible.


Judson Evans‘s poems have appeared most recently in Volt, 1913: a journal of forms, Cutbank, and Laurel Review. His haibun have appeared in a number of anthologies of the form, including Journeys 2017: An Anthology of International Haibun (CreateSpace, 2017), edited by Angelee Deodhar, and Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (Tuttle Publishing, 1998), edited by Bruce Ross. He is Director of Liberal Arts and teaches courses on utopian societies, ancient Greek literature, and Japanese poetry at The Boston Conservatory. He was chosen as an Academy of American Poets emerging poet by John Yau (2007) and won the Philip Booth Poetry Prize from Salt Hill (2103).

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